“Finish the play” is a line you’ll often hear me say while helping someone through a drill. It’s a simple lesson, but an important one that too many folk overlook.
When working on a drill, especially one that includes multiple parts, fighters often have the tendency to pause the moment they go off script and then try and reset from there. The problem is that reinforcing this behavior will get you killed. What I encourage instead is to finish the play, regardless of where you ended up, in order to help teach improvisation.
Teaching folks how to improvise in fighting is a fairly difficult task as is. The two main pedagogical approaches I have run across can generally be summed up as “here is a fixed set of moves, now do them a thousand times with your partner”, “go fight a bunch and just figure it out”, or some combination of the two. There are certain drills, such as actively building decision trees, which are wonderful and I highly recommend you incorporate them into your practice. That said, they can still be a rather stringent script leaving students unable to adequately deal with a situation they’ve never encountered before.
Another answer might be to just throw a bunch of weird stuff at your student and have them slowly figure out how to use the tools that they have to deal with it. This again can also be a helpful teaching tool, but runs the risk of feeling overly artificial as you search through the back of the manual to find the weird moves the masters of old threw on as an appendix.
By always finishing the play, though, students will be forced to deal with unexpected situations in a controlled environment, all while learning to never freeze up in a fight.